Nature Deficit Disorder and the Cottage Preseason Opener

pexels-photo-42240Nature deficit disorder appears to be a real thing and spending time at the cottage provides a great fix. As part of this, my family and I have been unintentionally creating additional habitat for various invasive species for almost 17 years.

We purchased an A-frame cottage on Lake Winnipeg to get closer to nature.The two-story cottage and the open design allow everyone in the family their own personal space. The metal roof and cedar siding keeps out the elements, but not the rodents, which need their own personal space.

Opening the cottage after a long winter became a joyous occasion for the family. The main reason for this joy includes my travelling to the cottage by myself beforehand and conducting a cottage preseason opener. Like baseball spring training, I do some preliminary cleaning to work out the bugs. And of course by bugs, I do mean insects and other things that would drive away family members till the incident was forgotten.

In the first year, the flat roof over the sunroom leaked. The good news was that the vapor barrier captured all the water. The bad news was that these bags of tarry water hanging from the ceiling pushed out the ceiling tiles and made the room reminiscent of Invasion of the Body Snatchers.  Making an incision in the hanging cocoon and draining the water remedied the situation.

We recently installed a small outdoor hot tub that we can plug-in for the summer. When lifting the lid for the first time of the season, I ask please don’t let me find a dead small mammal inside. This is only exceeded by the triple please of don’t let me find a terrified, alive and wanting to escape small mammal inside. So far, we have been good.

When cleaning outside, I use the gas-powered leaf blower to man-dust the decks. I do walk through the cottage, engine off, to clean the upper deck. Only a few times has it passed my mind to quickly man-dust the interior. Who would really know? But there are the gas fumes. So next year I am so going electric leaf blower. The gas blower works very well in the garage, especially if no one is watching.

Inside the cottage, checking all of the furniture, particular the beds, for mouse droppings, comes next. We keep the cottage warm during the winter, so finding a soft fluffy mouse nest in one of the beds is not beyond consideration. A mouse nest would require a cathartic cleansing of the linens. And by cleansing, I mean burning.

Cleaning inside causes a bit less stress. The freezer has to be cleaned out to make room for the coming summer. Sometimes this means tossing everything. Sometimes this means not letting things go to waste. This spring I had to dispose of a half container of crystalized ice cream, and by dispose of I mean eat. It tasted liked solidified sugar. And regret.

The main event involves crawling beneath the cottage. We have this area closed in, insulated and covered in plastic. Dark, dusty, bit mildewy, no one could hear you scream, if you even had the chance.

One late fall, some mid-sized mammals had moved in underneath the cottage. The tunnel they dug underneath the wall enclosing the bottom of the cottage allowed the cold winter air to directly hit the pipe coming up out of the ground from the well pump. This resulted in no well water for the rest of the winter and no working toilets. So during the summer, I closed off their hole and installed more furnace venting to direct heat towards the corner to prevent the pipes from freezing. The following winter, the hole was redug, and the venting was ripped apart. Apparently they didn’t like the air flow. They continued to show their displeasure by scat throughout the level beneath the cottage. Mid-size mammal droppings are a general sign to be careful, but I would swear that the droppings were arranged into an actual sign that said ‘stay away’. It may have been the darkness.

The forested property provides a tremendous view of the lake, which with the waves can look more like the ocean. Lake Winnipeg suffers from some eutrophication. Surface runoff from the extensive watershed and fertilizer use creates algae blooms. These blooms create green waves with the consistency of green paint. Waves glurp when hitting the shore. And waves should never glurp. Not a sound you want to have alongside your morning coffee.

At some point during the summer the sun brings out the flowers and butterflies. When the family comes to the cottage, the BBQ comes out, along with the home-made beer, bicycles and kayaks. This sooths the nature deficit disorder somewhat, and we continue to get inoculated as often as possible. There remains a difference between watching nature, and nature watching you. Nature normally comes at night, with many pairs of eyes that appear to glow in the dark. But, we are intervening into nature’s arena and we should be respectful. And watchful. Always watchful.

 

 

Photo by mali maeder from Pexels https://www.pexels.com/photo/snow-wood-forest-winter-42240/

The new immortals: What legal status should be granted to artificially intelligent persons? -Canadian Lawyer

pexels-photo-97077Immortals shall soon walk among us. They may also crawl, roll and perhaps hover. Yes, definitely hover. The immortals refer to artificially intelligent persons, and by “us” I mean natural persons.

The European Parliament Committee on Legal Affairs recently released a report recognizing that humankind stands on the threshold of an era of sophisticated robots and other manifestations of artificial intelligence. The committee saw the need to legislate this area relatively quickly as self-driving cars are making their appearance. The fundamental question is what sort of legal status should be granted to AIPs? Natural persons want to avoid any “Battle of the AIPs” future scenarios.

A reference to Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein; or, The Modern Prometheus dramatically starts off the committee’s report. The committee thought that by addressing people’s real concerns upfront, they could deal with the more substantive issues. The committee recognizes that people have fantasized about the possibility of building intelligent machines and of achieving potential unbounded prosperity. The committee does not mention drones with laser canons, but you just know they were all fantasizing about that.

Other person “types” provide potential guidance. Corporations occupy a separate category of legal persons in an attempt to reach personhood. A corporation is a legal person by legislation. In the 1973 sci-fi film by the same name, Soylent Green may be people, but corporations are not people. “Corporations are people, my friend,” said U.S. presidential hopeful Mitt Romney in 2011, and Democrats took him to task for this statement. “I don’t care how many times you try to explain it,” U.S. president Barack Obama said at one point. “Corporations aren’t people. People are people.” A person falls into the legislative definition of a natural person, and the corporate experience shows where the AIP legal status question may end up.

Corporations have first amendment rights and can advocate for certain political parties. Should AIPs be provided similar rights, and if they could vote for a particular party, what sort of governmental structure would they prefer? Anarchy would be a good bet, and not the cloak and molotov cocktail carrying kind. German philosopher Immanuel Kant identified anarchy as “law and freedom without force.” AIPs would not have the billions of years of upbringing requiring force to deal with predators and competitors. They might learn that on their own, and perhaps to our detriment.

Corporations can own property but don’t have personal privacy rights. One can imagine AIPs creating new patentable types of software. If your AIP demanded privacy, what would your reaction be? Once your teenager makes the same request in your house, your first compulsion might be to sack the room and look for drugs or an old-fashioned diary. For an AIP, would you look for secret caches of information, or heaven forbid, mind-expanding cloud-based storage?

Corporations can also divide like an amoeba and create brand new little entities. One can easily imagine AIPs creating more advanced AIPs. Shelley’s creature demanded that Frankenstein “create a female for me with whom I can live in the interchange of those sympathies necessary for my being.” If AIPs created little AIPs, should we — could we — stop them? The age of consent does not apply here. An AIP could easily become “older” than any builder if an AIP can download the wisdom of the ages overnight and join the ancients. How could one supervise this potential procreation proclivity in AIPs? In Canada, the government has no role in the bedrooms of the nation. The U.S. government appears to be in every intelligent device, so it may be supervising already.

In describing artificial intelligence, the committee outlines how the present legislation does not encompass machines that become autonomous and self-aware. A machine can be built, loaded with software and then go on to learn from its environment. This new environmental learning suggests that the AIP can determine its own actions and learn from its experience and failures. AIPs have an advantage here since the majority of natural persons still struggle with learning from failure.

If an AIP can decide its own actions and causes harm, then legal liability can shift from the builder over to the teacher providing the environment. If an AIP can operate independently with its environment and be held accountable for its own actions, then it could be held strictly liable. Strict liability requires that a plaintiff show that the damage occurred and a causal link. This differs from negligence in that there is no need to establish the same duty of care, standard of care and breach of that duty of care. Strict liability would be allocated between builder and eventual teacher. The teacher and the surrounding environment impacts the liability shift between builder and teacher. This shift would be extremely difficult to establish in that it may take a village to raise a child, but a vast social media network environment raises an AIP.

The committee suggests an ethical framework of beneficence, nonmaleficence and autonomy, and fundamental rights such as human dignity and human rights, equality, justice and equity, non-discrimination and non-stigmatization, autonomy and individual responsibility, informed consent, privacy and social responsibility. Whether these ethics and fundamental rights will be offered to AIPs remains unclear, but sauce for the goose is sauce for the gander.

Natural people tend to anthropomorphize animals and objects, and this tendency may provide greater rights to AIPs. Do you feel bad if your kitchen table ensnares your Roomba? Would you feel even worse if it was trapped and you had earlier placed googly eyes on the Roomba? If so, then you would likely agree that AIPs are entitled to receive ethical and compassionate treatment. But would they need it or are we simply making ourselves feel better?

The committee suggests the need to include a kill switch (opt-out mechanisms). I will shorten this to “OOM.” The OOM euphemism provides somewhat of a guilt release. Humanity can delude itself in the belief it has control over any situation, but as Kurt Vonnegut Jr. wrote in The Sirens of Titan, “The only controls available to those on board were two push-buttons on the center post of the cabin — one labeled on and one labeled off. The on button simply started a flight from Mars. The off button connected to nothing. It was installed at the insistence of the Martian mental-health experts, who said that human beings were always happier with machinery they thought they could turn off.” If you have difficulty in OOMing your faithful Roomba, think how hard it might be if it asked you to reconsider.

To alleviate this OOM situation, I would recommend that readers take their favourite mind/body relaxant and consider the following: Consider if, instead of immortality, AIPs live a limited number of years. Science fiction covers both ends of the spectrum of planned obsolescence of the most brutal kind to the inability to self-terminate. If we incorporated a pre-determined lifespan, would we tell our AIPs the exact date? We could leave the date determination to a random number generator entitled Final Actual Time Expiry, or FATE. Perhaps again, sauce for the goose is sauce for the gander.

 

Previously on Canadian Lawyer

Photo

Negative Space

Source: negativespace.co

A negative connotation

toothbrush-toothpaste-dental-care-clean-40798Cavity suggests a negative connotation. Whenever you think about cavity an image or an issue presents itself. The first image includes dental visits. Particularly when I was younger. Back then the drills were run by steel cables. Very Kafkaesque.

Other cavities suggest returning from opium countries. Planes. Searches.

Another major time you think about cavities would be where your organs reside. Normally they resemble a good next door tenant. Quiet, restful,  innocuous. The moment you have to take them aside and tell them to quiet down, well the good relationship starts to deteriorate.

Pixabay

Source: pixabay.com

via Daily Prompt: Cavity

Smart Phone Dopamine Doping

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I fondly remember the first cell-phones. And by cell-phones I mean the old brick sized cell phones that would come with their own power supply the size of a car battery. I would constantly check my voice mail to see if anyone left me a voice message. I became thrilled if someone left me an electronic message and asked me to do something. I also became disappointed if there were no messages, especially after loading up my briefcase to haul this monstrosity of communications device around.

 

Of course with continued miniaturization, you could finally fit your phone into your pocket without having to carry a briefcase. But as the phones got smaller, the larger their impact on your overall life. When the phones finally developed the most miniature of screens, this was like mana from heaven. Texting was pointless for me when you had to type a button three times to get the proper letter to form a word. No wonder the WTF abbreviations finally started and formed part of our lexicon. Writing, became another art form slowly being lost.

A lot of people believe that the precursor of the end of civilization as we know it came with the advent of smartphones. Now you really can communicate with anyone in the world and at the same time lose the ability to relate to everyone else.

 

Of course, the end of civilization was to end with television, and before that radio, and before that the telegraph, printed books etc. Even Aristotle opposed writing somewhat since then his students didn’t really learn something if they didn’t have to memorize it. This little bit of wisdom may still apply today since you can search the world’s knowledge whenever you want to and you don’t really have to understand it. The context of everything then becomes a little bit more lost.

The intellectual train comes with a bunch of preliminary cars such as facts, information, knowledge, wisdom and finally you get to the locomotive we all want to reach, enlightenment. But with our attention span fallen below 8 seconds, which is lower than the common goldfish, enlightenment may only come as a result of a search engine.

 

We are so anxious to get our little dopamine fix. I used to play Black Jack a fair bit. This was the one game where you could get closest to beating the house. Rest assured, you think you can beat them over the very long-term, but you can’t. That’s why they have such great hotels in Vegas. Any money leakage is quickly squashed. I had a fairly simple system of knowing all the odds and pressing the advantage whenever the cards starting going my way. It paid for a couple of trips, but I got out when the going was good since the long game always favors the house. But I remember the chemical effects. You can feel the dopamine pouring through your system whenever a good card was laid out. You win just enough to keep you completely engaged. And you can now feel this same effect whenever you agree to push notifications from your favorite social media.

 

I had my computer bing whenever a new email came in. I would drop, electronically, whatever email I was working on in order to read the new email. My concentration was slowly being eaten away as I agreed to the new hormonal influx from the new email. It would take me a minute or two to get properly focused on whatever I was doing before however.

 

Now you can get notifications whenever something new is posted, or new comments on that post, or if someone comments on your post, or if someone comments on your comments. Time keeps getting chopped up more finely.

After a while it seems that you might have an angry squirrel in your pocket since your phone constantly chitters at you. Begging for a bit more attention. If this is making people happy, then more power to them. But this seems like a short jump to Brave New World when the population turned to Soma instead of facing reality. Attaching electrodes directly to the brain seems to be simpler and faster route than having to go through the smart phone interface.

 

Eventually things got bad enough that I turned off all push notifications from any sort of social media. This recapture of free will became most liberating. I feel that being able to focus on one thing at time increased my creativity as I go through various scenarios. This reduction in dopamine happiness likely had other positive ramifications however.

 

Scientific American provided some research on the difference between happiness and well-being. There appears to be a synergistic effect where one can increase the other but they remain different. One can be happy watching TV even though you would be better off learning something new or completing that homework assignment. By changing your focus from short-term tactical happiness you can then focus on the long-term strategic happiness.

 

 

My Code of Conduct is wordier than your Code of Conduct.

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“Moral as well as legal obligations will be fulfilled openly, promptly, and in a manner which will reflect pride on the Company’s name.”

These words form the basis of a very fine code of conduct. Unfortunately, this code did not prevent Enron’s problems when it finally collapsed upon itself. So legislators passed Sarbanes-Oxley to fix the problem. The problem still grew resulting in almost the collapse of the financial system in 2008. The more regulations you pass to address the problem seem to magnify the next series of problems.

Various professional organizations provide for very comprehensive codes of conduct. Some groups expanded their codes to now include such things as principles for diversity. Just about everyone agrees that these constitute fine statements for people to aspire. Some disagree that they should not be forced to sign such principles. Others disagree that the principles do not go far enough.

If anyone needs to be reminded to simply act as a decent human being, then yes, the codes do not go far enough. But do fine statements actually work? Do people needing to change their behaviours actually change their behaviours based on something written down on a website, PDF, piece of paper, scroll or basalt? The last refers to the Code of Hammurabi of eye for an eye fame which we saw in the Louvre. A replica would make a fine reminder in any office lobby of the possibility of retribution for nefarious acts.

The various societies of Professional Biologists developed a pithy one page Code of ethics outlining responsibilities to the public, employer or client and within the profession. Membership requires adherence to the various codes listed, but these societies do not appear to govern the ability to practice as a biologist. You become a biologist when someone else calls you a biologist. I am not aware of any society that handles complaints, even if there were any. The biologists in breach rarely get into the paper.

The code of ethics for engineers begins to look more like a brochure. The code requires the highest standards of honesty and integrity. Engineers are expected to perform under a standard of professional behaviours that requires adherence to the highest principles of ethical conduct. Over the past four years the Ontario society may have averaged 6 complaints per year. They seem to be doing relatively well ethics wise.

We begin to enter a serious stage with the Code of Ethics for Professional Accountants. At 114 pages, the code does go into greater detail as to how one should serve not only the client but the greater public interest. The fundamental principles include integrity, objectivity, professional competence, confidentiality and professional behaviours.  The Ontario CPA decisions list over 600 case over the past 30 years. Interesting, and perhaps indicative of accounting behaviour, the cases are listed by rule infraction instead of by year. The discipline journal of cases resembles a tax code.

The various law societies also come in around 113 pages, but have expanded this with some useful commentary and handy indexes found in the back and something that is not found in other codes of conduct, namely definitions. These are found at the beginning of each section. The essence of the code holds out integrity, competence, quality of service, confidentially and conflicts as some of the main pillars. In Ontario there appears to be a steady increase of complaints since in 2008 there were 132 decisions and 199 decisions in 2017. An almost 50% increase over a decade.

 

For comparison purposes, we might look at the Canadian Curling association’s Code of Ethics of 6 bullet points and Fair Play of 5 bullet points which would easily fit on a beer label. This would at least keep it top of mind. Infractions never seem to make the paper unless it occurs at some national level. To avoid the most common infraction, some rinks use a detector if a curling stone is released after crossing the hog line.

So, more regulation does not appear to be solving ethical infractions. An argument could be made that the problem would have been worse, but it’s always hard to prove how many icebergs you really did miss. People only remember the one you didn’t miss.

What appears to be missing from the paper code of conduct solutions would be an ethical culture and an overall ethical program. An ethical culture must originate from management. The various governing societies can help visualize what the tone should sound like, but management must be the one singing it. An ethical program requires more than just a well-defined code of conduct. You also need guidance, a system for obtaining advice and ethical training.

Some of this necessary infrastructure appears to be lacking in a number of governing societies. Compulsory Professional Development can cover some ethical training, but 1 ½ hours of required training a year may be far too low to effect meaningful change. Even a day a year would be insufficient to change some groups reticent to let go of old paradigms.

A system should also be put in place to ensure others can ask questions if necessary. The most effective way to impact change would be to add sufficient transparency to what is occurring prior to any problems arising. Attempting to resolve an issue is far more difficult than trying to prevent the problem from arising in the first place. Reporting of problems after they have occurred can be problematic as people can be reluctant to report issues for fear of direct or far more likely, indirect reprisals.

Studies have shown that people act more honestly and ethically if they perceive that they are being watched. For example, people are far more inclined to contribute towards the coffee fund if a poster containing a pair of eyes is set up on the wall. The same effect could be had by filling in reports on levels of diversity or other steps taken by firm to minimize or otherwise address ethical issues.

Adding a reporting requirement may increase regulatory requirement, but this is actually different from simply adding another page to the code of conduct that may have no effect. Adding a process that increases transparency could have a beneficial impact on changing the corporate culture and address other systemic society issues.  Making small process changes can nudge various organizations and the people within them to make better ethical choices.

 

 

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Strategy from the surface of the sun

pexels-photo-236730Our organization used to love strategic planning. Whenever we had a new CEO, they would start a new strategic plan to put their stamp on the organization.

Back in the 90s, we attended this out-of-town retreat with our new CEO. About 20 of us attended this exercise. The CEO started with a enthusiastic intro. Things started to spin a bit out of control after that in apparent attempt to impress him.

One manager said that we had to step back a bit and see how things were going. The next manager suggested that we had to take elevated view of the entire economy. The next manager said that we had to take an even higher 30,000 foot look at the past present and  future. The next manager said we had to go even further to take a global analysis of the history and future of the world as observed from the sun.

I made the last one up, but in keeping with the trend lines, everyone attempted to outdo the prior manager in order to show himself as more of a visionary.

Strategy